How to predict a printer’s quality

So you’re looking to choose a provider of clothing printing, but there are so many people out there that offer similar services it is difficult to differentiate between the different offers.

If you are running a clothing brand, or have perception of quality that your company needs to portray, then you are going to need a quality printed clothing company. If all you need is the lowest price, then all you need is a print that is fit for purpose.

It’s easy to work out which is the cheapest printer, you just ask a few for prices and do some basic maths. But if you are looking for quality, how can you tell which printer to choose? How do you tell who is a professional outfit, with high quality printing machinery and years of experience, and who is printing in their shed from a 15 year old Time Computer, with a transfer printer and heat press they bought from ebay?

The problem with printing is that it is not an exact science like in manufacturing other products, there is always going to be minor variations from product to product due to the human intervention required. It is important to understand that all printers, good and bad, will have minor variations in each. It is also industry practice to have a 5% defect rate (every time you buy 100 t-shirts, up to 5 will have something slightly wrong with them).

Limited Company or Sole Trade?

This isn’t always a watertight guarantee, but if the printer is a Limited Company then it may be more likely that it is a larger setup. This doesn’t necessarily mean quality, but a limited company has more administration requirements put on it by the government than a sole trader, so it may be a sign it’s more of a business than a hobby.

Limited companies are fairly easy to set up, so it’s not a foolproof test. However, it’s a good place to start.

Price
This is a difficult one, because a low price doesn’t always mean bad quality, but it is a good indicator. The price of a print is made up of a few elements:

  • The cost of the ink
  • The overhead (things like power, light, heating, tea bags in the kitchen, and other things required to run a business
  • The cost of the labour in printing (the more skilled and experienced, the higher this is likely to be)
  • The profit margin (like it or not, businesses need to make a profit/surplus in order to continue to survive)

This therefore means, a quality printer with low overhead costs could be cheaper than a shoddy printer with high overhead. It’s probably more fair to say the biggest and smallest printers could have the lowest prices, the smallest will have lower overhead costs whilst the biggest would have economies of scale to spread the overhead across a larger number of orders.

So when factoring in price, don’t look at it on its own, but it’s an important aspect to consider.

Base Coats

When printing onto coloured garments using Screen Printing or DTG Printing (Digital), a good quality printer will always put down a base coat before the main print; this ensures increased print durability and vibrancy. If your printer has 1 price that fits all, it may suggest they are not using base coats on prints.

If a printer has one price for printing onto white garments and one price for printing on colours, in most cases you can rest assured they are using base coats, and you’ll be able to expect a quality print that will last.

Clients

Looking at a printer’s clients will help you to establish who they have worked with. But it’s not always what it seems on the surface!

Check out a large majority of printed clothing company websites, and you’ll see that they’ve worked with some really big private and public sector organisations. This very well may be true, but what you don’t necessarily know is what was delivered to those customers.

A company that has nothing to hide will try to add more than just a logo, they’ll give you testimonials, case studies, photographs, and anything else that shows the capacity in which they did business.

Obviously not every client will want to provide a case study or a testimonial, and that isn’t necessarily because they had a bad experience. Many larger businesses do not permit employees from giving permission for logos to be used, or offering testimonials on behalf of the organisation.

So the best way to check is to get a sense of the overall quality of the client list, see if there are any case studies and see if any direct quotes from the customer are included. Also check social media, sometimes customers compliment or complain on there. But don’t be put off by a single/handful of complaints, it’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time.

Response Times

How long does your printer take to reply? If it’s more than a day, it may be because they’re a small business where few people share many responsibilities. In these scenarios, getting products printed and out of the door will take priority over replying to emails. But a fast response time will suggest a larger business that may mean you’re not going to receive personal service. Either may be right for you, it’s not that one is better than the other. At A.M. Custom Clothing we try to have a good balance of both, you get a dedicated account manager, meaning fast response and personal service.

Samples

What better way to know than to actually see and feel it yourself? Samples are a great way to do this, although don’t always expect them for free.

The problem with samples is that many print companies will receive numerous requests each day for samples, and this can add up to quite a cost!

Some companies won’t give you a sample until you have already committed to a larger order, others will sell you a sample and offer a credit note against a future order. You may sometimes get samples of previous work, but there is of course still a cost for the printer here.